Baseball goes deep into minors to dampen fun


April 14, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

It was a near thing, but they almost had fun last night at baseball game. Fortunately, alert officials intervened in time.

Because if you have fun at one game, who knows where it would lead? Maybe fans would start demanding fun at all the games. This was obviously too great a risk to accept.

The place in question was Pompano Beach, Fla., home of the Miami Miracle of the Class A Florida State League. Yes, the Miami Miracle, for reasons too complicated to explain, played in Pompano. And if that isn't weird enough, the Miami/Pompano Miracle wanted to sign a 68-year-old player to a contract.

The player's name is Minnie Minoso. For those of you too young to remember Minnie, he is famous for at least two things: one, his name, Saturnino Orestes Arrieta Armas Minoso; and two, that he played professional baseball in the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s.

What the Miracle wanted to do was to play him in the '90s. One game, one at-bat, a one-day contract.


According to the people who run baseball, no. According to them, it would compromise -- get ready, you know what's coming -- the integrity of the game. Yes, the long arm of baseball extends even to an unaffiliated team playing in the low minors calling itself the Miami Miracle and playing in nearby Pompano Beach.

"My God," said Miracle team owner Mike Veeck, "why do we insist on taking ourselves so seriously?"

Did you notice the name -- Veeck? Yes, Mike Veeck is the son of the late Bill Veeck, who was the last man in baseball who thought the idea of the game was to have fun. It was Bill Veeck, we all remember, who ran a midget out to bat for the old St. Louis Browns 40 years ago. I was kind of surprised when they recently put Bill Veeck in the Hall of Fame. But I understand it now. He was safely out of the way.

But now, here's son Mike, who says, "I can hear echoes of Dad's peg leg walking down the hallway."

It was Bill Veeck who got Minoso an at-bat in 1976 and another in 1980. Last year, the Chicago White Sox asked if he could play for them in 1990 to make him the first six-decade player. Commissioner Fay Vincent said he couldn't.

"I got the idea from sitting in front of my TV, when I heard that Minnie couldn't play for the White Sox," Veeck said on Friday. "You could sort of understand that. The stuffed shirts had their excuse -- it was the major leagues and Minnie was 67 and maybe you could say it would take away from a game.

"But this is different. We're 35 minutes from Little Havana [in Miami], and he's a great national treasure. It was a chance to continue in a small way something that was very important to my dad and to Minnie."

And, they had six buses coming in from Miami.

You see, it's a promotion, something to sell the game. When Mike worked for his dad, he learned all about promotions, including the notorious anti-disco night, which was Mike's idea.

"I know about being called a travesty," he said, "but how can this be a travesty? What I want to know is why the commissioner's office even cares."

That's a great question, except the commissioner's office denies even being involved. The man who made the decision was Tom %% Romenesko, who oversees independent minor-league baseball teams for major-league baseball. He's the one who intervened, but Veeck isn't buying it.

"They're passing it off to Tom Romenesko, who is appointed -- no, make that anointed -- to oversee the five independent teams and their roster changes," Veeck said. "They're making him the bad guy, but I don't believe it.

"I think the word came down from on high. And I know that's not popular to say and could be detrimental to one's health. But why would the commissioner care? I want my commissioner to worry about things like players turning down salaries of $15 million, about umpire strikes, about making sure the TV contract is worth the money. I don't want him interested in a ball game in Pompano Beach."

They had the night, anyway, but Minnie wasn't supposed to be able to play. Max Patkin, the baseball clown, and Morganna, whose gifts to the game are also legendary, were scheduled to be there. It was meant to be a night of baseball sideshows. Minoso had been working out for about a month in Sarasota, Fla., and, hey, I wouldn't have been surprised to see him get a hit.

"You know, they let Tom Selleck bat in an exhibition game," Veeck said. "I loved 'Magnum P.I.,' but that doesn't make him a DH. We looked for precedent. And, of course, there was one. Satchel Paige, when he pitched a game in Gastonia, gave an announced age of 62.

"They made the ruling on how it would affect the game, but nobody even went to look at Minnie to see if he could hit. I've got kids on the bench who had a chance to sit next to a legend. What could be wrong with that? Nothing could have come out of this but good."

As in good, clean fun. No, sir, we don't want any of that.


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